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Healthcare: A Major Undertaking to Understand Pain

What's the best way to classify types of chronic pain

It seems like a simple question: What is pain? But for medical researchers, defining pain has been a knotty problem. Is it a disease in itself or a symptom of disease? Formal classifications that could help doctors make more confident diagnoses have been hard to come by, even though an estimated 20 percent of the world’s population suffers from chronic pain of some sort.

In 2012, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO), which maintains the authoritative International Classification of Diseases (ICD), to explore adding a more rigorous taxonomy of pain to the guide’s next edition. Dr. Rolf-Detlef Treede, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, recalls effectively being told by WHO: OK, but hurry up. The next edition would be published in 2015, lightning speed in medical research circles.

“The challenge was that there was very little time, and the existing groups [focused on taxonomies] were known to be slow,” Treede said. “So, we had to put something together from scratch.”

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